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  • Writer's pictureTani Nielsen

A Crash Course in Paint Colors

Before starting my design career, I was clueless when it came to paint colors. Up to that point, the most creative experience I had with the subject was splatter painting my bedroom with vibrant multi colors as a teenager. (Don’t worry; I also added colorful hippy beads around my bed and doorway to complete the look.) Unless you’re a rebellious high schooler, then you might have to admit that color can be scary! Even experienced designers are sometimes fearful about how a new shade will look when it’s finally on the wall. We wonder (sometimes aloud): “Will it look different in the bedroom than it does in the hallway? Will there be undertones of purple that we didn’t see on the sample board?” We stare for hours (okay, minutes, but it feels like hours!) at a thousand hues of grey searching for the perfect one. Mark Twain said “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” It’s the same with the right hue for each space. The choices are overwhelming, but a good designer knows that only the right color will truly bring a space to life. A color that is close but not quite right often feels all wrong.

Today I’ll give you a few tips to help you select the color for your room that you’re sure to love. First and foremost, each paint color will have an undertone of another color. When you see a color you like on a paint strip, be sure to look at the strip that you are taking it from. Are you looking at a gray on a strip with a violet color in the bottom section? Your grey will have purple tones in it depending on the light. What about a gray with brown as the last color on the strip? Your grey will be warmer like a taupe. Different lighting will bring out these undertones and no room has completely even lighting, so choose wisely. And think about what’s in the room. Your furniture and decor can benefit from walls with a certain undertone. These subtle differences can be a distraction or be the thing that ties a space together

Saturation is not satisfying! (I just made that up. Impressive, I know.) It might not be the catchiest, but it’s the truth! This is perhaps the most common mistake I see from clients and friends, and I walked into it when we bought our first home. Our house had vibrant saturated walls in the bedrooms when we moved in. Apple green and caramel brown to be exact.

A bold crayola color might make sense in a kid’s room, but unless it’s fun for your toddler then I say steer clear! When in doubt, choose a lighter version of the color you’re eyeing. If you want blue, don’t pick the truest blue on the wheel. I promise it will be overwhelming when it’s on the walls. I can just hear the refrain “But Tani, I love color!” I know you do, and trust me, you can still have color without your house looking like a crayon. It’s worth repeating: find that magical color you love and go down a shade or two on the same strip. You will still get a defined color, but one that’s not so hard on the eyes.

It’s never a bad idea to paint samples up on your wall. (You’re gonna paint the wall anyway, so go crazy if you want.) There’s no substitute for seeing the actual color applied to your wall under the actual lighting in your room. Hanging paper samples is only so helpful. Even a relatively small swatch is often enlightening. Be sure to try your samples or paint squares in different areas of the room so you can see how the color responds to the lighting in different places. You’ll see quickly that the same color reads very differently in warm light compared to cool light. The same is true for sunlight versus artificial.

Ultimately, when you’re selecting a color for a room in your home, do what makes you happy. There are colors that are timeless and others that are trending, but at the end of the day, you are the one living in the space. Make sure it reflects your taste. I am still neck deep in the grays that are so popular, and my own home shows it. But the bedrooms at my house also show the world of difference between colors that all might be considered “gray.” The taupe and blue undertones give each room a distinct feel. To add a pop of color, our dining room has a pattern of large coral diamonds. I love the feel of something unexpected, and I love the color coral, so I went for it, not because it followed any sort of design rule, but because it makes me feel like it’s my space.

Speaking of colors I love, I’ve listed below a few of my favorites below. Of course, they may or may not work in your house. If they don’t, call me for a paint consultation!


Benjamin Moore- Stonington Grey HC-170

Sherwin Williams- Argos 7065


BM- Revere Pewter HC-172

SW Agreeable Gray- 7029

Dark Blue

BM Newburyport Blue HC-155

Light Blue

SW- Languid Blue 6226

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1 Comment

Apr 03, 2020

And you know your stuff! Best “white” recommendation ever. #hardestcolorofall

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